The coin toss that decided the 5A SIC Pod B championship continues to reverberate around the Idaho high school football playoffs.
Eagle won the flip after the Mustangs, Borah and Rocky Mountain tied for first place two weeks ago. That gave Eagle a bye last week and the right to host a rivalry rematch in the quarterfinals this week against Rocky Mountain, even though the Grizzlies waxed Eagle three weeks ago, 34-9.
But you won’t hear Rocky Mountain complaining. The Grizzlies have embraced the long road through the playoffs, and they started it off by blowing out Post Falls 63-34 last week in North Idaho.
“Going 3 miles down the road is a lot easier than going to Post Falls,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “We don’t mind at all.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
Rocky Mountain at Eagle, 7 p.m. Friday
Fresh off a beating at Rocky Mountain three weeks ago, Eagle coach Paul Peterson held a long talk with his team that Friday night, and then again the following day.
The Mustangs had hit their low point. No. 3 Rocky Mountain ran over them for 458 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. But Peterson told them what came next was up to them, and the team responded by invoking the mercy rule against Borah for the 5A SIC Pod B championship (with some luck from the aforementioned coin toss).
The win earned No. 5 Eagle a much-needed bye to get healthy before a rematch with its neighbor. Peterson downplayed the shot at redemption, but second chances against your rival are rare.
“We know that Rocky is exceptional, and we have to play a flawless game to be in that game,” Peterson said. “We’re embracing the tall task at hand.”
Task No. 1 starts with slowing the Rocky Mountain running game. Since Boise State commit and offensive/defensive lineman Keeghan Freeborn returned to the lineup three weeks ago, the Grizzlies have run for 431 yards per game, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
A team that juggled dual spread and option offenses has almost exclusively relied on its ground game the past three weeks because no one has stopped it.
“We’re rolling with what’s working. Both are kind of working,” Rocky Mountain’s Culig said. “We ran the ball well out of the shotgun, but the option seems to be clicking.”
That’s allowed Rocky Mountain quarterback Will McMullin to heal from an ankle injury. With McMullin back to full strength, Peterson knows Eagle can’t sell out to stop the run and leave its corners on an island, or else the spread offense will come running onto the field.
“They’ve just got weapons everywhere,” Peterson said. “It’s extremely difficult to try to prepare for.”
No 5A SIC pod champion has failed to reach the semifinals since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 2014. Until now.
Rocky Mountain 28, Eagle 22
Rigby at Mountain View, 7 p.m. Friday
Rigby gets on a bus bound for the Treasure Valley for the second week in a row after rallying past Borah 35-21 in the first round. And the Trojans take on a familiar opponent; they were blasted 50-0 by Mountain View in last year’s first round.
That blowout is a long way in the rear-view mirror, though. Rigby (8-2) features one of the most potent running backs in the state in senior Braden Youngstrom. He ran over, around and past the Borah defense last week for 295 total yards and four TDs, giving him 2,037 all-purpose yards and 24 TDs on the season.
Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said the Mavericks will have to rally and gang-tackle Youngstrom. If they don’t, he’ll pop a couple of long runs.
“I’ve been coaching for 23 years now, and I would put this guy in that top tier, some of the top guys I’ve ever seen,” Benedick said. “He’s powerful, he breaks tackles and he’s got the wheels to go with it.”
No. 1-ranked Mountain View features its own potent offense, one that led the 5A SIC with 294 rushing yards and 38.7 points a game. Caden Hansen (1,227 yards, 10 TDs) does the bulk of the work, but the Mavericks also shuffle in Mitch Leiby, Jaymon Barrus and even Joey Elwell to keep the chains moving.
That marks a departure from the three previous Maverick teams that reached the state championship game. Instead of a future Division I talent leading the way, Mountain View has racked up 13 straight wins with a group whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“All they’ve seen, this senior class, is three classes play ahead of them in the championship,” Benedick said. “They think that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
And that’s a group not going home this week.
Mountain View 34, Rigby 22
Capital at Highland, 8:15 p.m. Friday
Two of Idaho’s most storied programs are just determined to play each other.
Highland (7-1) planned to travel to Boise for a Week 3 matchup, but poor air quality from wildfires around the Northwest canceled that game. So instead, Capital (7-2) heads to Pocatello’s Holt Arena for a quarterfinal matchup.
That’s only fitting for these two perennial playoff powerhouses. Capital is making its 11th straight playoff appearance, while Highland will make its 26th. But it’s just the third meeting between the two since 2004.
Expect a defensive battle as Highland fields 5A’s top defense (13 points per game) behind defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, a U.S. Army All-American who holds scholarship offers from nearly every program in the country, including national powers Ohio State, Penn State, USC and Washington.
But Capital isn’t far behind in second place at 15.7 points allowed per game. And the Eagles have shown their explosive capability on offense all season.
One or two big plays might be all they need to pull out a win.
Capital 17, Highland 14
Quarterfinal high school football picks
Each week, Michael Lycklama of the Idaho Statesman will pick the winner of every high school football game in the Treasure Valley. Computer picks are made by using the Elo rankings popularized by FiveThirtyEight.com. The odds Elo gives each team of winning is also listed.
Rigby at Mountain View
Mtn View (72%)
Rocky Mountain at Eagle
Rocky Mtn (64%)
Capital vs. Highland at ISU
Bishop Kelly vs. Skyline at ISU (Thur.)
Idaho Falls at Skyview
Middleton at Sandpoint
Homedale at Shelley
Sugar-Salem at Fruitland (Sat.)
New Plymouth at Aberdeen
Challis at Horseshoe Bend (Sat.)
Kendrick at Tri-Valley
Salmon River vs. Deary at UI